Many people wish to spend a carefree life out on the sea after retirement. But one big question that overshadows this dream is, “Am I too old for sailing?”
The truth is that when it comes to sailing, age is just a number. Your ability to sail depends on a few factors, not many of which are age-related. The most important factor is physical fitness, so if you are able-bodied even in your 80s, there is no reason why you can’t set out to sail.
If you are interested in sailing at a ripe old age, we can help you find out the things that can help you to safely set sail well into your senior years. Physical fitness can be an important factor when you are going out to sea alone. If you do not have the necessary amount of muscle power, you can still sail with a skeleton crew who can do the requisite pushing and pulling for you. Aside from that, you also need a quick-thinking mind to make split-second decisions out on the open seas.
Many people are literally missing the boat when they think they are too old to sail. However, they should keep in mind that many people take up sailing only when they reach their golden years. There are numerous records of mariners who sailed well into their 70s, 80,s and even 90s. Hence, one of the best aspects of sailing is that it is a dream that you can realize even in your twilight years.
Is Age a Factor in Sailing?
Sailing is one of the most popular activities after retirement. In fact, experience matters a great deal when it comes to sailing independently. In fact, do you know that blue-water sailors are mostly over the age of 40 and still sail with remarkable consistency?
If you are generally fit and do not have any serious health problems, you can sail. There are a few things that are required for sailing, including a certain level of physical strength and the ability to keep your balance on a rocking deck, so if you have any physical impediments, you should consult your GP before you set out to sail.
There are many older sailors who insist that a boat lifestyle keeps them fit, healthy, and feeling young. In addition, boating also offers mental stimulation, as well as a boatload of mental, emotional, and psychological benefits.
The sailing community is extremely forgiving and age blind and a seasoned sailor can be a wonderful source of advice and inspiration for the youth sailors. No amount of tech and gadgets can make up for the experience accumulated on the waters sailing in all weathers.
However, sailing can be a bit of a workout, so you need to fully understand the physical demands it takes on your body. In addition, as we grow older, our body fails us in some ways. Here are some factors you need to consider:
Our hearing prowess reduces as we age. There are some people who do not experience a great deterioration in their auditory senses; however, there are some who may not be reliably able to hear the Coast Guards or other boats through VHF radio communication. If you believe you will have trouble hearing the radio, it is a good idea to bring somebody with you who can keep an ear out. That is not to say that deaf sailors cannot perform impressive sailing feats. However, it is always a good idea to equip your boat with systems that display information like incoming vessels and weather updates on a screen.
Over 60% of Americans wear glasses so having vision impairment alone is not reason enough for you to avoid sailing. If you wear glasses, you should consider getting a lanyard for them in case they get blown off your face from the wind. Bringing a spare pair of glasses with you is a smart idea. It is also a good idea to consider shorter voyages in fair weather or bring a person or two that you can trust to navigate the boat.
Upper Body Strength
Sailing requires a certain level of manual labor, including pulling ropes and moving planks that can weigh about 20 to 50 pounds. A lot of time, you will need to make pulling motions for hours at a time. Before you embark on your journey, you should do some workouts and develop some upper body strength to train your body for sailing.
Balance and Agility
Sailing a boat is all about keeping your balance in choppy waters and thinking on your toes. You will be standing on a fast-moving vessel and you will often need to get from one side of the boat to the other in a matter of seconds without losing your bearings. If you cannot do that, sailing may not be the best outdoor activity for you.
Boating not just exercises your physical body but also your mind. It is a great idea to hit the gym and develop some new muscles before you set out to sea, but you should also take some measures to train your mind. When you are sailing, you will have to make split-second decisions, particularly when you are in turbulent waters.
Keeping all the above factors in mind, we would like to say that you can still sail even if you are not physically fit. All you need to do is to recruit some able-bodied family members, friends, or a crew who know their way around a boat to accompany you on a sea voyage.
Seniors at Sea
In the past and even today, there have been thousands of sailors well beyond their mid-life who have performed unbelievable sailing feats on the sea.
Dr. Jim Boren is a 91-year-old sailor who bought a Hunter 30 sailboat in 2015, the year he turned 90. The boat was named Skoal and Boren single-handedly sailed it all summer on long voyages and cruises. The avid sailor advises people his age not to “listen to anybody that says ‘you are too old to do that’… Push the envelope. Stay active. You have to keep keeping on.”
In 2019, a 77-year-old British woman, Jeanne Socrates, became the most senior person to sail around the world alone, single-handedly, and non-stop. She completed her solo circumnavigation in her 38 feet boat Nereida, which sustained damage to its main and backup sails and lost her solar panels overboard. Socrates was already the oldest woman to make such a trip since she had made a record in 2013 as well.
The late Harry Lightner Heckel Jr. was a legendary sailor who completed his first solo circumnavigation at the age of 78 and his second one at the age of 89. Heckle still holds the record for the oldest person in the world to sail solo alone.
In 2010, Reid Stowe, 58, made land after a record-breaking 1,152 days of voyage on the sea. The sailor set sail in his 70-foot sailing boat with his girlfriend who accompanied him for 10 months. After three years on the water, he set foot on dry land and was greeted by his 23-year-old girlfriend and a 21-month-old son he had never seen.
The AARP, the nonprofit group empowering people over the age of 50, also offers stories about people, even couples, who decided to take up sailing after they hit 60.
There are probably thousands of more such journeys undertaken by senior sailors across the world. Many of them did not make the front-page news but there is no doubt they had the adventure of a lifetime.
If the only thing that is preventing you from sailing is your age, then do not fear. There are thousands of people over the age of 60 who sail on the open seas all year long. In fact, if you are a lifelong sailor, your experience will make you even better adept at life on a boat than the younger generation.
Do not be afraid to push yourselves to new limits or reach even further. Like aged wine, you will only grow better with age so hold on to your confidence when it is time to hit the deck.
If you have lived a full life sailing, then the only thing that should stop you from setting sail in your old age is Davy Jones’ Locker.
About THE AUTHOR
I'm Michael Moris. I've been sailing my whole life, and it has taken me to places I never imagined. From the Caribbean to Europe, from New Zealand to South America - there's nowhere that hasn't felt like home when you're on a boat!Read more about Michael Moris